4 Wintertime Tips for a Healthy, Holistic Kitchen

Just as our wardrobes change as we transition into winter, so should our homes.  One of the most important places to make a few tweaks is in the kitchen.  I asked natural foods chef, Andrea Beaman, and organic recipe queen, Carrie Vitt, for their top wintertime tips for creating a healthy, holistic kitchen.

1.  Stock up on bone broths

“For me a holistic healthy kitchen in the winter time includes lots of homemade stock in the freezer (fish stock, chicken stock, duck stock).  It’s a great mineral and amino acid rich broth to use in warming soups and stews.  I think stocks are so important to any home kitchen that I have an entire chapter dedicated to stocks in my new book: Health is Wealth – Make a Delicious Investment in You!

~ Andrea Beaman, Natural Foods Chef, author, and television host dedicated to alternative healing and green, sustainable living.  Try her Basic Beef Bone Stock and Chicken Stock.

Carrie's chicken stock recipe in action

I always keep it [homemade chicken stock] on hand in the freezer for when the first sign of a cold arrives.

~ Carrie Vitt, author of Deliciously Organic: Simple Dishes, Vibrant Flavors Everyone will LoveShe makes a tasty immune-building chicken stock that incorporates the whole bird (cooked chicken and broth, a two-fer!). 

2.  Cook with coconut oil

Carrie often uses coconut oil when whipping up one of her fabulously healthy meals because of its antiviral properties.  It’s also safe for high heat cooking, making it a great all-purpose cooking oil.  When the temperatures drop, coconut oil will solidify; but it melts easily.

Side note:  As I mentioned in this post, I use coconut oil (separate batch for hygiene) as a moisturizer too.  It melts in seconds when applied to skin warm from a hot shower.  It’s antiviral/antibacterial properties work topically too, so you’re moisturizing and protecting at the same time.

3.  Keep immune-boosting supplements on hand

Carrie also recommends her favorite vitamin C powder–Pure Radiance C, made from organic and wild berries–as a supplement to support immune health during flu season.

I swear by Thieves Essential Oil blend from Young Living.  It has 100% therapeutic-grade essential oils of clove, cinnamon, lemon, eucalyptus, and rosemary that combine to deliver antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibacterial protection.  During times of stress (hello holidays!) and flu season this oil, along with Inner Defense Softgels (which also contain Thieves but with oregano, thyme, and lemongrass) give me a fighting chance of staying healthy.

4.  Sharpen your knife skills

No, you don’t need to practice knife throwing or even perfect your slicing technique.  All you have to do is sharpen your main prep knife.  Why?  Dull knives don’t just make hard winter veggies difficult to cut, they are a more serious hazard to your health than sharp knives.  Most knife injuries occur due to dull blades, which need more pressure to cut, making it more likely for the knife to slip off food and cut your hand instead.  Not a jolly good time.  If you don’t have a knife sharpener (or don’t know how to use the one you have), you can get them sharpened at hardware stores, cooking retailers, and some restaurants.  A Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood offers the service for $5.00. (These are NYC prices, so they’re probably cheaper elsewhere.)  No excuses…remain sharp for safety!

How to Cut a Mango the Easy Way

Cutting mangoes used to be a big pain for me.  I would peel the skin from the mango and then attempt to cut it.  Aaaaargh!  The difficulty!  The mess!  The danger!  Then a good friend of mine–who grew up in the Philippines surrounded by mangoes–showed me the proper way to get the job done.  Now, I’m passing on that knowledge so you too can enjoy mangoes at home…and keep all your fingers.

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Juniper Spice-Crusted Steak with Sapphire Collins

The day before our Executive Chef, Anthony Prontelli, appeared on NBC’s Sunday morning show to share his steak recipe, I got to sample the dish.  It was so amazing I had to make sure you all got the recipe too!  The show segment also featured a master mixologist, who showed us how to make a Sapphire Collins that perfectly compliments the steak dish.  Prontelli’s spice rub, which also works well with pork, lamb, and chicken, contains juniper berries and lemon peel, two of the botanicals Bombay Sapphire uses in its gin.

The spices on the meat blend delightfully with the summer-y Sapphire Collins cocktail, which I modified by nixing the traditional simple syrup and using a less-refined sugar.  Toasting the juniper berries and fennel seeds really releases their warm, sensual aroma.   By themselves, these two spices have a woodsy licorice taste, but when combined with the rest of the spices, are more subdued and help create a richly layered flavor to the meat.  Using lemon-pepper seasoning gives the dish a touch of citrus that makes the flavor of the meat really pop.

I seared the steak first before finishing it in the oven, but it can be prepared on the grill too.  In either case, make sure you reserve some of the spice to sprinkle on the meat after it’s sliced since some of it will come off during cooking.

Here is most of the segment that appeared on Sunday’s show.  You’ll learn some great tips and helpful information.  Unfortunately, the folks at NBC didn’t include it on their website, so I videotaped the recording on my TV.  Not the best quality, but it’s better than nothing!

Juniper Spice-Crusted Steak

Grass-fed meat of your choice – I used beef tenderloin here.  Let steak come to room temperature before using so meat will cook evenly.

1 part lemon-pepper seasoning

1½ parts whole juniper berries

½ part fennel seeds

½ part sea salt

For the spice mixture:

Dry-toast the juniper berries and fennel seeds in a skillet for a few minutes until they release an aromatic fragrance.

Thoroughly grind juniper and fennel in a spice grinder.

Combine with the remaining spices.  Reserve a few pinches of the spice mixture to sprinkle on meat before serving.

For the meat:

Preheat oven to 350°F (or preheat grill).  Roll meat in spice mixture until a thick crust forms.  If grilling, ignore skillet and baking pan references and just do your thing!

Place in skillet and sear on all sides for about a minute or until browned.

In a baking pan, finish cooking meat until reaches desired internal temperature.  Keep in mind that meat will continue to cook after removed from heat. Remove meat from oven or grill and let sit for 10 minutes or so before slicing.  If you’re using red meat, this will prevent the meat from bleeding out when you cut into it. Sprinkle a bit of reserved spice mixture on top of slices before serving.

I served the steak with herb greens and tomato.  The dressing is Meyer lemon-flavored olive oil and lavender balsamic, sprinkled with pepper and sea salt.

The next day, I used the leftover steak and salad to make a tasty wrap.  I’m thinking I’ll cook a bigger portion of steak next time just for the leftovers…equally delicious cold! Can’t wait to try this spice rub on other meat as well.

Bombay Sapphire Collins

1 part fresh lemon juice

1 part sugar syrup –  Make a less-refined syrup by dissolving 2 tablespoons sucanat (organic whole cane sugar) in a little water.  Depending on how sweet you like your cocktail, this will make enough syrup for one or two drinks.  You could also use raw agave nectar or a little stevia by themselves instead of the syrup.

Bombay Sapphire Gin

Soda water (no-sodium)

Fresh lemon wheel or twist

Pour equal parts lemon juice and syrup in a glass (or pitcher).  Add desired amount of gin.  Either use a jigger to measure the alcohol, or use a pour spout that you can attach to the bottle.   Here’s a video explaining how to free-pour. Fill glass or pitcher with soda water and gently stir with a long spoon.  Garnish each glass with lemon wheel or twist, if desired.

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5 Vegetable Tips From Professional Chefs, Part 2

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Here is Part 2 of this post…This weekend, I’ll post a heart-healthy recipe incorporating two of the 5 tips!

4. Dicing Onions

The only way I used to know how to cut onions was either into circles, half-moons, or wedges.  I can now add little “squares” to my repertoire!

Photo by K.C. © 2010 Kristin Conroy

Take a whole onion and cut it lengthwise so you are cutting through its stem and top.  Remove the outer skin.  Lay one of the onion halves flat side down, the top heading right if you’re right-handed, left if you’re left-handed.

Using a chef’s knife, start from the flat end of the onion (closest to cutting board) and make a cut from top to root, away from you, stopping before the root.  Make sure you know where your fingers are at all times!  Repeat in even increments.

Then make perpendicular cuts in the same increments.

Now cut the onion as if you were making half-moon cuts, which should result in little identical pieces.

So if you make your first set of cuts ½ inch apart, make sure the other sets of cuts are ½ inch apart in order to get your diced onion as symmetrical as possible.

5. Salting Eggplant

There are two reasons for salting eggplant.  One is to remove the bitter taste some eggplants have, the other reason is to avoid a soggy mess when making dishes such as eggplant parmesan.  Both problems can be resolved by getting rid of all the water they hold.  Line the bottom of a large colander with one layer of cut eggplant (cut the way you will be using them in your recipe) and then sprinkle salt over them.  Layer with more eggplant and continue the process until the colander is full or you finish the eggplant.  Top the eggplant with a plate and weigh it down with something heavy enough to smoosh the eggplant down a bit.  Make sure you either put the colander in a bowl or in the sink as the eggplant will release a lot of water.  After 2 hours, remove the eggplant, give them a little squeeze, wipe off the salt, and lay the slices on paper towels to absorb any remaining moisture.

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5 Vegetable Tricks From Professional Chefs, Part 1

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I split these tips into 2 parts for easier digestion (aren’t I clever?).  In Part 1, I share tips 1-3.  Later this week, I will reveal tips 4 & 5 and will end the week with a recipe that uses two of the tricks you will learn!  And for those of you who know the proper terms for all things cooking, I apologize in advance if I don’t use the correct terminology.  I’ll get there eventually! 🙂

I didn’t go to culinary school.  My experience with cooking isn’t that long either.  So I like to pick the brains of the chefs I have the opportunity to work with so I can expand my knowledge of cooking.  Maybe you know these tips and tricks already–yay you!–but who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

1. Freezing Vegetables

Have you ever tried freezing vegetables whole or cutting them up, tossing them in a Baggie, and throwing said Baggie in the freezer?  It’s not pretty.  I didn’t know that the reason they become slimy and mushy when you use them later is because the veggies’ cell structure explodes from the water expanding from the freezing process.  Huh.  Makes sense when you think about it!  Apparently, in order to freeze vegetables, you need to blanch them first.  You can do this with whole veggies if they are small or cut them up.  To blanch, submerge veggies (with tongs or mesh strainer) into boiling water for a few seconds.  Then remove them and dunk into ice water.  When the vegetables are cool enough to touch, gently squeeze out any excess water and dry well.  Now they are ready to freeze.  This method works for herbs too.  FYI, basil turns black when you freeze it without blanching it first, yuck! In order not to end up with a big frozen block of vegetables, use what chefs call the I.Q.F. (Individual Quick Freeze) technique.  This means you freeze the veggies on a baking sheet or similar surface in a single layer before putting them in the container or bag for storage.

2. Using Mushroom Stems

Ever feel guilty for tossing mushroom stems?  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like to waste anything.  I was let in on a secret for utilizing those undesirable and tough stubs on some varieties of mushrooms…grinding them into powder!  It’s a great way to add the flavor of mushrooms to dishes, like risotto, in a pinch.  Scatter stems on a wire rack above a baking sheet–you want the air to circulate underneath–and bake in the oven at 150°F-175°F until dried out.  Let cool and grind mushroom stems in a spice grinder until they become powder.  Store the powder in a mason jar until needed.  Depending on the variety of mushroom you use, 1 Tablespoon of powder is equal to approximately 4 mushrooms.  You can also dry out whole mushrooms using the same technique–but don’t grind them–and reconstitute them later for cooking.  I would probably do this if I wanted to stock up on fancy mushrooms I found at a great price.

Photo by K.C. © 2010 Kristin Conroy

3. Cutting Celery Into Uniform Pieces (aka Dicing)

Cutting celery into those perfect little uniform pieces like the pros do isn’t a product of magic, as I previously thought.  Here’s how to do it:  Chop off the leaves and the branches (use them for something else if you wish) and the white bottom part.  Lay the rib of celery so the edges are facing down.  Flatten the celery by pressing down on the flat end of a chef’s knife with the palm of your non-cutting hand.  I don’t have to remind you to be careful, do I?  You’ll hear a nice crunch as you move your way across the stalk.  Now that the celery is flat, cut it lengthwise into about 4 long strips. Then bunch the strips together, line the edges up, and cut into desired size, making sure to make your cuts at the same interval.  If the ribs are pretty narrow and tightly curved like the ones pictured above,  I would skip the flattening, they will just end up breaking in half.  Instead, cut the rib lengthwise in half, then slice each one in half again.  This YouTube video will show you how.  Personally, I often skip the flattening, but more than one professional chef included this flattening method when dicing celery.


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